Culturally sanctioned suicide: Euthanasia, seppuku, and terrorist martyrdom
AbstractSuicide is one of the greatest concerns in psychiatric practice, with considerable efforts devoted to prevention. The psychiatric view of suicide tends to equate it with depression or other forms of mental illness. However, some forms of suicide occur independently of mental illness and within a framework of cultural sanctioning such that they aren’t regarded as suicide at all. Despite persistent taboos against suicide, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in the context of terminal illness is increasingly accepted as a way to preserve autonomy and dignity in the West. Seppuku, the ancient samurai ritual of suicide by self-stabbing, was long considered an honorable act of self-resolve such that despite the removal of cultural sanctioning, the rate of suicide in Japan remains high with suicide masquerading as seppuku still carried out both there and abroad. Suicide as an act of murder and terrorism is a practice currently popular with Islamic militants who regard it as martyrdom in the context of war. The absence of mental illness and the presence of cultural sanctioning do not mean that suicide should not be prevented. Culturally sanctioned suicide must be understood in terms of the specific motivations that underlie the choice of death over life. Efforts to prevent culturally sanctioned suicide must focus on alternatives to achieve similar ends and must ultimately be implemented within cultures to remove the sanctioning of self-destructive acts.